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How to do Krounchasana—Heron Pose

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Krounchasana demands a high level of internal rotation. Most internally directed poses help the mind drop deeper into inner awareness and create a reflection on the true self within.

Start in a seated position and fold your left knee back with a deep internal rotation of your left hip; your left foot should be beside your left hip. Drop the head of your right thighbone into its socket as you raise your right leg. If possible, keep your right leg straight as you lift it and clasp your hands around your instep. If your hamstring feels tight, bend your right knee. Inhale to create space and length through your inner body. Exhale as you fold your right leg in toward the center line of your body by continuing to pull downward on your right thighbone. Slowly bring your chin toward the shin or the head to the knee. Align your right knee with your sternum to facilitate a gentle internal rotation and find stillness in the full expression of Krounchasana. Stay here for five breaths. Inhale, straighten your arms, and straighten your head away from your right leg. Exhale to stabilize your pelvic floor, then place your hands on the floor and exit the pose. Repeat on the left side.

How to do Urdhva Mukha Paschimattanasana—Upward-Facing Intense Stretch

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Urdhva Mukha Paschimattanasana is the upward-facing version of the forward bend known as Paschimattanasana (Deep Forward Fold). This floating forward bend embodies the stillness required to discover the inner body. If you enter it with force and no awareness of the inner space of your pelvis, then the pose is essentially impossible. To practice this pose, you will need a calm, steady mind.
Start in a supine position. Inhale and lift your legs over the top of your head. Touch your toes to the ground behind your head as in Halasana (Plow Pose). Flex your feet slightly and hold on to them near your heels. Exhale to stabilize your pelvic floor. Inhale as you gently roll up to a seated position by rolling up each vertebra. Use your hips to initiate and direct your movement. Keep your legs straight and maintain the same grip on your feet throughout the transition. Find your balance with straight arms and straight legs. Exhale and fold your chest toward your thighs by drawing the head of each down into its socket. If you can’t manage the roll-up transition with straight legs, then allow your knees to bend as you come up and straighten your legs as much as possible once you are seated. Stay here for five breaths. Inhale and straighten your arms, exhale and settle into the V-shape pose, and then release your feet, returning to seated.

How to do: Urdhva Kukkutasana—Flying Rooster Pose

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When you first see this pose, you may wonder how to get into it. The transition requires you to find an inner stillness, although the movement itself is not as challenging as it may seem at first. You will need a calm, steady mind to approach this pose. I chose to include Urdhva Kukkutasana because attempting this pose was an emotional journey that taught me strength and stillness of mind. For many years, I felt unworthy because this pose was inaccessible to me. You too may find it very difficult or nearly impossible. Yet if you integrate the impossible into your practice while maintaining a calm, quiet mind, you will become stronger for trying! Never judge yourself by whether you achieve the aesthetic shape of the pose. Go on the inner journey, and let the state of your stillness be your measure of success.

There are many different ways to enter this challenging arm balance. Let’s start with the most basic. From a seated position, fold your legs into Padmasana (Lotus Pose). Roll forward onto your knees, and place your hands on the mat directly in front of your knees. Stabilize your shoulders and draw your lower ribs in toward your spine. Tilt your shoulders forward and bend your elbows slightly. Lean to the right to lift your left knee toward your left armpit. Lean toward the left to lift your right knee toward your right armpit. The knees may not actually reach the armpits. As long as the knees rest on the upper arms above the elbow, the pose should be accessible. Straighten both arms and press down firmly from your shoulders. Tighten your core, send your hips back and up, and gaze toward your nose. Stay here for five breaths. Exhale and jump back to Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Pointed Staff Pose), releasing Padmasana along the way. Note that Bakasana (Crane Pose) can be used as a modification if you cannot do Padmasana yet.

How to do: Samasthiti—Equal Standing Pose

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Stand at the front of your mat with the bases of your big toes together and leave a small space between your heels. Gently engage your quadriceps, activate your pelvic floor, draw your lower belly in, free your shoulders, and allow energy to flow along the central axis of your body. Use prayer position for the hands when holding Samasthiti for chanting or meditation. But relaxing the arms by the side may help release tension. Samasthiti represents the still point from which all movement begins. It is the space between breaths in the present moment, perfectly positioned between future and past. In the space of now, there is a stillness that speaks.

The Sun Salutation

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More than just a physical practice, the Sun Salutations create a balanced, meditative mind that abides in equanimity between the two opposing forces of flexion and extension. This is the basic lesson of the emotional journey of the Intermediate Series, and it is available within the movements of the Surya Namaskara.
All asanas are held for one breath, except Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), which is held for five breaths in Sun Salutation A and for five breaths in Sun Salutation B.


The first breath of the practice, usually called one (ekam), sets the stage for healthy shoulder alignment in most inversions (see fig 2 ). Every time you raise your arms above your head, you are essentially training the arms how to be in alignment for more challenging postures like Pinchamayurasana, Bakasana (Crane Pose), and Adho Mukha Vrksasana. Contained within this simple movement is also the ability to straighten your arms fully in Urdhva Danurasana and Kapotasana B. Whether you are in the first breath of ekam, Utkatasana (Chair Pose) as the first breath of the Sun Salutation B, or Virabhadrasana A (Warrior I), it is crucial that you maintain the same shoulder alignment that is described in this chapter.
Many students are given the instruction to draw their shoulder blades down their back when raising their hands above their head; however, this instruction is only the first step of the movement. Starting off with your arms down by your sides in Samsthiti (see fig 1), first draw your shoulder blades down your back to create space around your neck. Then wrap your shoulder blades around toward the front of your body to activate the serratus anterior and rotator cuff muscles. Next send your arms and elbows forward, pressing the palms together. Activate your arm muscles and reach upward with your fingers. As you raise your arms, allow your shoulder blades to spiral forward, away from each other, and wrap around your torso. Once the forward shift with your hands and chest is complete, allow your shoulder blades to elevate while you draw your elbows toward each other as strongly as possible.
Do not stop when your arms are raised above your head in a vertical line with the rest of your body. Reach toward the ceiling with every bit of strength you have in your arms. Think about a swimmer’s arms reaching forward to jump into the water and reach with the same intensity toward the ceiling or sky. Do not worry about keeping your shoulder blades drawn down your back—that is merely the starting point to ensure that your neck has space. Fully straighten your arms, press your elbows in toward each other, gently drop your head back, and look up toward your thumbs. Look for an active stretching and strengthening sensation in your deltoids and arms. Most students are hesitant to find the full reach through their arms because they are afraid of lifting their shoulder blades or dropping their head back. In fact, only this lifted arm position creates the space for the head to drop back safely. The neck position practiced here is the same one used for backbends, so it behooves you to start integrating the muscular activation here. Do not worry about whether your elbows are hyperextended or not; instead, focus on your reach and length. Since you are not bearing weight, there is no risk of injury. Additionally, connecting the activation of the body into the energy flow will protect your joints over the long term. You should eventually do this motion in one long inhalation that allows The next place of emphasis for Intermediate students is in the strength movement to and from Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend; see fig 3). Activating the core and the shoulders to float or jump forward and back helps you develop the strength and steadiness necessary for the Intermediate Series. When initiating the motion to jump back from the third breath (trini) (see fig 4), remember not to throw your body back. (Note that trini and sapta are the same position, and the differ only in the entry and exit into the posture.) Instead, firm your shoulder girdle, activate your core muscles, and lean your shoulders and chest forward over your palms. Jump your hips forward by engaging your pelvic floor, and send your hips over the stable foundation of your arms. Then exhale and land softly in Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose; see fig 5). This movement is ideally learned with the assistance of a teacher who can emphasize the appropriate jump height and activation level.

THE BRAVE HEART OF A YOGI

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There may be nothing more heartrending than the sound of a suffering animal. It is the raw expression of pain that cracks empathy right open. When you feel like a small, suffering animal in your practice or your life, it is tempting to try to avoid the pain. However, the Ashtanga Yoga method asks you to train your inner animal to work with certain types of pain on the road to purification. If you quit each time your inner animal suffers, then you will quit on every hard and challenging pose.
We all have our sounds of suffering, whether it’s a grunt, a whimper, or an exhalation through the mouth. Or it may not be a sound at all, but just a slouchy posture or a pouting face. When these arise as a knee-jerk reaction to what you experience and you allow that reaction to guide your actions, then the pattern has a dangerous hold over you. It is, in essence, a deep samskara that has developed into a vasana. Once these patterns take root, they run on automatic pilot in your citta. The lesson of the Intermediate Series is about gaining control over the nervous system when you stand in the face of panic, pain, stress, and challenge. In this way, yoga trains the mind to face adversity with a balanced emotional state.

 If you have energy to make noise, then you have energy to redirect to the posture or movement. Instead of just releasing the potency of the moment in a sound, try to direct your energy to the inner body and use the urgency of the moment to dive deeper within. What you do when faced with these feelings will largely determine how well you are able to adapt and move forward in your life. If you collapse, quit, give up, and give in to the suffering animal inside rather than train your mind to be steady and calm in the face of pain or danger, then you are setting yourself up for failure. To work through painful and difficult circumstances, the mind must learn how to be strong, balanced, clear, and compassionate. You may find your greatest test in the Intermediate Series.

I am not above all this. As a student of yoga, I experienced this testing repeatedly. More recently, as I was learning the Ashtanga Yoga Fourth Series, a pose called Parivrttasana (Turning Round and Round Posture) A and B pushed me to the point of doubt, panic, confusion, and pain. The suffering animal inside me cried out. Parivrttasana A and B broke my conception of spatial orientation, challenged what I believed possible for my body, disturbed my breathing, and destroyed the boundaries of what I thought the practice is. I could never have done it without being guided by my teacher, R. Sharath Jois, in Mysore.
When I first did these two poses, I remember literally not knowing up from down, right from left, inhalation from exhalation, and feeling only fear, panic, and uncertainty. To be honest, sometimes when practicing alone, I used to let myself grunt and whine a bit. But the intensive movement of Parivrttasana A and B has strengthened my back and evened out my slight scoliosis. Learning this movement brought up deep emotions that sometimes frightened me, but I kept going, and now I feel much more clarity. You may experience something equally intense when confronting the deep backbends of the Intermediate Series.

BURNING THROUGH OBSTACLES

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The samskaras are habit patterns of the mind that have been practiced and repeated so often that they run on autopilot, unconsciously generating the same cyclical types of interactions in the world. As mentioned earlier, there are positive and negative behavioral patterns, but it is primarily the negative patterns that the yoga of purification addresses. A common analogy for negative samskaras likens them to almonds planted in the field of

consciousness; when they are given the fertile ground of attachment and aversion, they ultimately bear the fruit of suffering. However, do not think of the samskaras as “things” out there that act out and harm us. Instead, the samskaras shape our perspective and therefore our actions in the world. Samskaras are latent subliminal impressions that result from our experiences. Our actions can be called our karmas, and these leave the samskara impressions that give rise to the larger patterns of attraction and aversion known as the vasanas. We then take further action based on these, generating more karma. This cycle can be called the vritti-samskara-chakra.
The cycle is that impressions give rise to desire, and desire leads to action. Action leads to impressions. All of that together is part of avidya (delusion) and the root of suffering. The main purpose of all spiritually oriented yoga practices is a concentrated effort to break this cycle through the fire of purification. You need to know three important things about these samskaras when embarking on the inner journey of yoga. First, your personal storyline—the narrative of “you”— generally feeds the already established patterns. Second, the more you fight and struggle against them head-on, the worse they get, sort of like a constrictor snake. And third, the samskaras pull you down like a riptide into the sea of emotionality until you can feel like you are drowning. This is what happens in a relapse, a kind of slippery recidivism that pulls you down just when you think you are past a particular issue.
In some ways, the samskaras are like addictions. But instead of being addicted to a substance, you get addicted to a particular emotional state that, while it might be pleasant or exciting, ultimately leads to suffering and pain. The samskaras have a feeling of familiarity; they are what you know, and that familiarity is their temptation. The pattern is so well established, and you are unconsciously so attached to it, that it actually hurts to let it go. The more you unknowingly let the negative samskaras fuel your life course, the deeper they pull you into their destructive spiral.

DAILY DISCIPLINE

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Ashtanga Yoga is a daily discipline. Once you begin the Intermediate Series, it becomes strikingly apparent that this practice is not a hobby—it is something that will transform every aspect of your life.
The order of postures in Ashtanga Yoga is predetermined and set, reflecting the methodical nature of the practice. When embarking on a new path into uncharted territory, it is important to have a map you can follow. The set series of the Ashtanga Yoga method is a kind of GPS for the soul that shows you a well-established path toward realization that has been empirically proven over years of practice. You can have faith that you will not be led astray. Quite the opposite: the more you practice, the more you will develop faith in this path as you experience its efficacy in your own body.

Some people argue that the set series of poses is boring and that they would rather decide for themselves what to practice in their yoga routine each day. The Intermediate Series is not a light practice to be undertaken for some added health benefits or for pleasure. It is a systematic retraining of the body and mind that works subtle and gross systems in the physical and energetic bodies. It is a sort of Olympic training for the body and soul, and just like an athlete, you need a coach and a method to follow. Most athletes have a coach whom they trust to create a routine that will optimize their performance. The Ashtanga Yoga method is very similar: you build a relationship with your teacher, and he or she tailors the set series of asanas to optimize your journey along the spiritual path of yoga.

In daily life, limitless decisions demand our attention and drain our mental faculties. In an average busy day, you will make a plethora of small decisions ranging from what to wear, what route to take to work, what to eat, and what to buy at the store. These small choices can be overwhelming for the superego and exhausting for the emotional body, resulting in a “decision fatigue” that is more common than you may think. Rather than taking away your freedom, the set series of postures in the Ashtanga Yoga method creates the forum for your mind to experience inner peace through the vehicle of practice. You save your decision-making energy to direct the mind deep within the subtle body. Instead of using your mental energy to make yet another small decision about what pose to do, the Ashtanga Yoga method redefines freedom as being free from mental, physical, and spiritual obstacles.

9 EASY TIPS TO MAINTAIN YOUR PERSONAL YOGA PRACTICE

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When embarking on the journey into the Intermediate Series, you will need firm discipline. Think of discipline not as something imposed on you by some kind of drill sergeant, but as a daily ritual that you choose to internalize and perform, the highest potential to which you choose to dedicate your life. Once the behavior is ritualized, it will become embedded in your subconscious mind, and you will not question whether or not to perform the practice. Just as brushing your teeth is part of your morning ritual, the practice will be integrated into your daily routine without requiring a massive energy expenditure to include it each day. The following tips helped me maintain the daily practice that is the foundation of the method, and I hope they will help you too.

1. Place

Create a sacred space, and practice in the same place every time. If you practice at a yoga studio, simply going to the studio is enough; you don’t need to occupy the same spot on the floor every day. But if you practice at home, it is crucial to create a dedicated space for your practice, even if it is just one small corner of a small apartment. Place a photo of your teacher in front of your mat so you are reminded of him or her when you practice. When I practice at home, I see the photos of my teachers and am inspired to practice. Sometimes I pretend that Guruji is in the room with me, which definitely motivates me. If you have the space, you might even leave your mat unrolled all the time, to claim the space for practice instead of for other things in your life. It is ideal to have a room that you can devote entirely to yoga, but not everyone has that luxury. Just the space of a yoga mat can be a precious resource, so setting it up can claim the space as an altar to the spiritual intention within yourself and your life. Especially on days when you don’t feel like practicing, just go and stand on your yoga mat at your scheduled practice time and see what happens. If the energy is strong in that spot, it will pull you forward into the practice. If you change into your yoga clothes at the time you have set for your practice and stand on your mat, the attraction to practice will be even stronger. Sometimes just wearing yoga clothes will help you get in practice mode.

2. Time

Practice as close to the same time every day as possible. The more you can make your practice part of your daily routine, the easier it will be to practice consistently. If it is not possible to practice at the same time every day, then set a weekly schedule. Make appointments on your calendar for yoga practice and stick to them. Setting the time helps to ritualize your behavior, and you will expend less energy keeping to the discipline of daily practice.

3. Include

Share your motivations for practicing with your family or housemates. Including other people in your journey will encourage them to support your practice. Having the respect of your family and friends is helpful, because it means that yoga is integrated into the big picture of your daily life.

4. Acceptance

Let go of the “all or nothing” idea. If you have only five minutes a day, use that time to practice. Many people will not practice unless they can do a full ninety-minute session. Taking that much time is certainly important, especially when you begin the Intermediate Series, because the practice gets longer and longer. But there will be days when your time is limited, and it is not useful to skip practice if you only have twenty minutes. As little as five minutes a day gives you the chance to do at least a few Sun Salutations and maintain the continuity of your practice. Particularly if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the Intermediate Series, it is important that you at least maintain some aspect of daily practice, even if you do not have the time or energy to complete every posture. A little yoga is better than no yoga.

5. Inspiration

Seek out classes, teachers, workshops, retreats, trainings, books, videos, and social media for inspiration. Join a class whenever you can with a teacher who inspires you. Travel if necessary to take intensives and immersions. Follow teachers and yoga practitioners who inspire and support your journey on social media (YouTube and Instagram are great home practice supports).

6. Discipline

Be disciplined with yourself. Hold yourself to a certain standard, and be your own coach when you practice solo. A great way to be disciplined with yourself is to assign yourself a project for your practice and focus on that. When you are working on backbends, it can be especially hard to figure out exactly what to do each day. It is best to have a routine that you do every day without question. That routine is best set by a qualified teacher, but if you do not have access to a teacher, assign yourself a project that you will do every day for at least one month. For example, your routine could be to engage your pelvic floor strongly each time you extend your spine or to repeat Kapotasana three times every day. At the end of the allotted time, evaluate the success of the project, and either continue it or move on to a new one. Do not go crazy and assign yourself too many projects, or you will get overwhelmed. I never have more than one project per practice, which allows me the freedom to experience the flow of the practice spontaneously.

7. Goals

Set small, attainable goals on which you focus during each practice. This goal-setting is part of a healthy mental training and will be explained in greater detail in the introduction to the backbends segment of the Intermediate Series. If you can’t get yourself motivated to practice, do not force yourself to do everything. Just set a small goal for that day’s session. For example, on a day when you would rather stay in bed, tell yourself that you will do at least ten minutes. Once you succeed at the small goal, ask yourself if you want to stop or do more. Usually succeeding at the small goal builds momentum, and you will want to do a little more. Another example is the simple requirement of staying in each posture for five breaths. For poses that are very challenging, such as Karandavasana, staying for a full five breaths can be daunting. So you might assign yourself an even smaller goal, such as staying for two breaths. When you succeed at that, you can increase to three breaths and so on until you reach the full five breaths. Small successes generate further interest and energy for the practice.

8. Record

Keep a daily log to chart the course of your practice. Make it easy, like an app on your phone that clicks each time you practice or a calendar note. If you keep a log of how many days you spend doing yoga, you can add them up at the end of the year and acknowledge the work you’ve put in. I haven’t found a good yoga app that helps, but maybe I’ll develop something one day.
Another way to chart your course is to take before and after photos of yourself in the asana that is most challenging for you. Since you will be doing the posture every day, you might not feel the progress because you are down in the trenches of your own inner battles. However, when viewed from the perspective of many months or years of practice, physical progress is usually evident. Taking a photo once every three to six months will help you verify the forward movement that might not be obvious from your inner experience.

9. Forgiveness

Do not beat yourself up when you don’t practice or when you feel that a session was a train wreck. Just be grateful that you have a home practice, and give yourself the span of your lifetime to practice yoga. Practice being grateful and you will actually train your mind to think more appreciative thoughts. Through the mirror of yoga, you experience the natural fluctuations of the body and mind. Some days, your body will feel flexible; other days, it will be tight. Some days, your body will feel strong and other days, weak. Sometimes, your mind will be calm and clear; other times, it will be disturbed and distracted. Your job is not to be bothered by the fantastic display in the field of your experience. Watch with objectivity, cultivate curiosity for the present moment, turn up, and do your practice every day. Do not hold on to the good times or fight to remove the bad. Just be exactly where you are and trust that it is exactly where you need to be.

Working with Your Energy

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Yoga Energy

Energy is subtle, but not as subtle as you may think. The first step to experiencing your own energy, so you can see results in your health and life right away, is to have an awareness of the energy systems in your body.
Here are the eight energy systems that we work with in EMYoga:

Meridians Energie pathways that run up and down the body, including along the arms and legs; these paths run deep inside the body and at points come close to the surface of the skin, forming acupuncture or acupressure points

Chakras spiraling swirls of energy that spin outward and inward from seven main locations along the central line of the body, from the pubic bone to the crown of the head

Radiant Circuits paths of energy that run around the body, back and front; unlike meridians on fixed pathways, Radiant Circuits travel wherever their healing energy is needed—these are the energies of healing and joy

Electrics points on the body where the electrical component of all the energy systems is accessed

Aura the field of energy that surrounds and protects the physical body

Celtic Weavethe outermost layer of the aura filled with geometric shapes, including the powerful figure eight crossover pattern of health

Triple Warmera superhero meridian that controls the immune system, the fight-flight-freeze response, as well as the distribution of energy, heat, and moisture throughout the body; it can also evolve into a Radiant Circuit, empowering and strengthening our life path

The Five Elementsthe system that speaks with, influences, and unites all the energy systems and for that reason is the one used to create the healing practices